#TarotsoWhite: A conversation about diversity in our cards

numinous_tarot_chariot_knight_of_vials

From the Numinous Tarot by Noel Arthur Heimpel

Can we talk about the fact that there is still an overwhelming lack of racial diversity in tarot decks?

Last week, tarot blogger Kelly-Anne Maddox raised the topic in one of her Cardslinger videos of racial diversity in tarot. Specifically, the lack of visible people of colour in tarot cards/decks. With an introductory note about being white herself and aiming to open/amplify rather than ‘lead’ this important discussion, Kelly brings up issues including white-only decks, tokenism, and the exotification of people of colour when they are depicted in tarot decks.

Her video is here (Kelly brings up the topic around 25 mins in.)

So far, there has been a steady stream of responses to the #TarotsoWhite hashtag.

For those who haven’t seen or been following #tarotsowhite, here are some of the responses I’ve seen so far (and please add additional links in the comments):

Benebell Wen: My Perspective and #TarotsoWhite

My first inclination is to say, as a person of color, the whiteness of tarot card imagery doesn’t bother me. But I can’t leave it at that. I have to ask myself why it doesn’t bother me. The reason why it doesn’t bother me is what I said before—by now I’m used to it. People of color are used to being invisible. And, well, that’s deeply problematic. So even if it doesn’t bother me, it should bother me just as it should bother every person of color. If it doesn’t bother you, then it will never change. And if it doesn’t change, then the racial paradigm will always leave us marginalized.

Kimm Smith: On the White Face of Tarot

I want to say deeply to the tarot authors and artists out there today, that you may not notice it because YOU Are seeing yourself, and that is a familiar comfort. But know that all people of color would also love to feel that sense of connection as well. And as a Black woman, I also don’t expect to only see faces that appear as my own, but I want to see and feel all of us. Because that is this planet’s reality.

Kristen at Over The Moon Oracle Cards: I see white people in my tarot cards

It’s great to bring more awareness to this but I believe we should be focusing attention on the consumer. The finger should be pointed back at ourselves. If we truly have an ethical problem with a deck, we should not be purchasing it, promoting it with giveaways, showing it on our Instagram feeds, or doing video reviews of the deck. As deck purchasers, we need to change our mindset and buying habits, and use the power of money to create change. 

Asali Earthwork: #Tarotsowhite, the sky is blue (but prince said we could make the rain purple so anything is possible!)

As a black queer femme tarot reader, I’m asking that we all stop blaming time for what humanity has wrought.

The original RWS deck didn’t feature people of color because its creator chose it that way and a good chunk of its users preferred it that way- not because there weren’t any people of color around with aspects of their lives mirroring any one of the 78 paths of the tarot.

That choice continues to be made, perhaps with less intention (or just as much intention), today in countless decks.

So make a different one when you pick out or publish your next deck.

Hazielle Wong: #TarotsoWhite: Cultural Diversity in Tarot

Sticking a person of color onto your tarot decks isn’t what makes you a compassionate, understanding, or tolerant tarot practitioner. What would make us better tarot readers, in terms of cultural diversity, is actually making an effort to get to know different cultures and the people of these cultures better. Or, if we are completely ignorant about the culture of the person we are reading for, being open-minded and accepting about the differences in general when it comes to upbringing and beliefs.

Siobhan Rene: 7 major points of the #tarotsowhite discussion & why I don’t agree with them

Tarot bloggers are in a unique position to dispel diversity myths, to explore & showcase different cultural perspective, and to start honest & needed dialogue, as Kelly-Ann has done with #tarotsowhite. Even if it means we get triggered or exhausted, it’s a conversation worth having (for those who feel up to having it and when they feel up to it). This and other ally actions are ways to effect changes to the face of tarot. That said, remember that even if it seems like the experiences of POC or other marginalized groups are accessible or relatable, or that a conversation will make us the same kind of angry or trigger the same kind of reactions, remember that that just might not be the case.


ALSOTarot reader and coach Fiona Benjamin shared a video on Periscope called Tarot Allies and Allies in Masks which by all accounts added some really important views to the conversation…but that has already vanished into the mists of time!

(I contacted Fiona about the possibility of a replay, and she’s suggested that instead, she write a piece about why she rates her working deck, the Transformational Tarot, for inclusivity. So more on that later!)


Also on Twitter…


Other resources:

Tarot of the QTPOC

Asali has been reviewing decks for queer, trans and POC inclusion for months. This is a brilliant series that will make you think hard about the decks you choose and use, and also help you find decks that are truly inclusive.

Trung Nguyen on personal narratives in tarot and art

Tarot artist Trung Nguyen talks about representing queer folks and people of colour in his art and forthcoming tarot deck.

At some point, I took a hard look at my work and wondered why none of the figures in my images looked like me, the people in my family, or any of the folks in my life. And it just amazed me, you know? If there was room in my mind enough to empathize with talking animals and flying lizards, why didn’t I seem to exist in my own imagination? The notion was almost a little ridiculous, but at some point I actually had to convince myself, in all my Asian Americanness, that I deserve to exist in my own fantasies!

There is space in the magic: interview with Noel Arthur Heimpel, creator of The Numinous Tarot

Asali interviews artist Noel Heimpel, who is currently at work on their own super-inclusive tarot deck. Another amazing conversation about true diversity and what it means to begin from a point of inclusion.


Over to you!

Regardless of ethnicity, as members of the tarot community we have power. For starters, we are consumers. We spend our money on tarot decks. Our choices are powerful! We can choose to keep buying whitewashed decks, or we can use our consumer power to encourage change and boost the artists and deck creators working on a new generation of more inclusive tarot decks.

Those of us who can afford to, let’s commit to doing this. When you next see crowdfunding campaigns doing the round, check out the work. Consider making even a very small donation to encourage and support the artist. Creating a tarot deck takes a shit-ton of effort, work and time, but if the tarot community stepped up and supported, diverse tarot deck creation could become so much more sustainable.

Right now, you can support:

+ I know there’s lots more out there! If I’ve missed out voices and projects, please add them in the comments!

And if you have a platform and an audience, you can use it to signal-boost the voices of people of colour. It’s not just our tarot cards that are whitewashed, the tarot community as a whole tends to be by white voices and faces. The conversation about racial diversity in tarot is a crucial one, and centring and amplifying the voices of people of colour can help the conversation can become louder and really move us forwards.

5 comments

  1. Rash says:

    I’m in the middle of working on getting my tarot blog and newsletter going. I popped over here to learn more about Kelly-Ann Maddox (long story;-)) When I searched for her name, this post came up. Wow.

    One of the reasons I decided to dip my toe in the online tarot pool was because – as a woman of color – I felt the same way as one of the folks who tweeted: Why the hell is it that every time I see someone black on a tarot card, they’re wearing a dashiki and an ankh. There’s nothing wrong with that, but not every black woman looks or dresses like Erykah (actually no one can, she’s a Goddess.)

  2. Tango Batelli

    this conversation is oh so important. tarot is what is it is out of an eclectic, multi-cultural history. white-washing that history is more than appropriative, it’s imperialist. i agree that we need more diversity in our cards and our discussions.

    let’s honor this history and reflect the kind of future we want to see.

  3. AnLin says:

    While I agree with some of this, other ideas don’t sit well with me. Refusing to promote a deck or shunning it (and calling for your friends/followers to do the same) because it doesn’t suit your personal wants is bullying. An artist should never be bullied or harassed or made to feel bad just because their art reflects their personal aesthetic or life. It’s one thing for a publisher to commission a deck with specifically unsettling characteristics (“We don’t want any people of color!”), and a completely different thing for a publisher to use artwork an artist has already created (which is a very common thing to do). It’s a crappy thing to do to hobble one deck just because you want something else published.

    More and more publishers are picking up decks that were originally independently published. With Kickstarter it’s very easy to see what the actual demand for something is and to see if people will put their money where their uproar is. If there is a large demand for this then why aren’t people Kickstarting it?

    Something that really gets under my skin is the flippant and incorrect use of the term “whitewashing”. Whitewashing is a real and nefarious thing that erases the history and struggle of one or more cultures. An artist creating art that features people that look like him/her and then a publisher using that for a tarot deck is not whitewashing.

    Lastly, while many people of color are involved in the world of tarot, it still remains a very white crowd. Decks will naturally reflect that.

    As an aside, if I’m not mistaken, some of the most popular decks out there are quite diverse where both color and gender are concerned (such as the Tarot Illuminati and Mary-El).

  4. Are111 says:

    Yes! I just got an oracle deck (not Tarot) and noticed every single character was white. I was so appalled that I had to google around to see if others noticed and/or felt this way. Got to this article, but funny thing is I read your blog on occasion anyway. :)

    Thank you for posting this. It’s so important. I know this is about Tarot, but want to also point out this is problem for other types of decks too, as many Tarot readers also own one or more of those decks. I’d also like to see romance cards (found often in oracle decks) depict something OTHER than a het couple. And what about an aromantic card? Would love to see a goddess/faerie/angel/avatar/enlightened being character in a wheel chair. Maybe we stop orientalizing characters when they’re representing people/practices/beliefs from around the world? How about adding some non-binary gender representation in a card when you’ve got one dedicated to female energy and one for male energy (or maybe just stop using gender as a descriptor of giving/receiving energies–but that’s my personal bone to pick). As you can see, this struck a cord. :)

    I’m going to be much more diligent when selecting a deck again. I’m giving this particular deck to a friend.

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